Task-sharing to support paediatric and child health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries: current practice and a scoping review of emerging opportunities

Demographic and epidemiological changes have prompted thinking on the need to broaden the child health agenda to include care for complex and chronic conditions in the 0–19 years (paediatric) age range. Providing such services will be undermined by general and skilled paediatric workforce shortages especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In this paper, we aim to understand existing, sanctioned forms of task-sharing to support the delivery of care for more complex and chronic paediatric and child health conditions in LMICs and emerging opportunities for task-sharing. We specifically focus on conditions other than acute infectious diseases and malnutrition that are historically shifted.

We (1) reviewed the Global Burden of Diseases study to understand which conditions may need to be prioritized; (2) investigated training opportunities and national policies related to task-sharing (current practice) in five purposefully selected African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa); and (3) summarized reported experience of task-sharing and paediatric and child health service delivery through a scoping review of research literature in LMICs published between 1990 and 2019 using MEDLINE, Embase, Global Health, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library.

We found that while some training opportunities nominally support emerging roles for non-physician clinicians and nurses, formal scopes of practices often remain rather restricted and neither training nor policy seems well aligned with probable needs from high-burden complex and chronic conditions. From 83 studies in 24 LMICs, and aside from the historically shifted conditions, we found some evidence examining task-sharing for a small set of specific conditions (circumcision, some complex surgery, rheumatic heart diseases, epilepsy, mental health).

As child health strategies are further redesigned to address the previously unmet needs careful strategic thinking on the development of an appropriate paediatric workforce is needed. To achieve coverage at scale countries may need to transform their paediatric workforce including possible new roles for non-physician cadres to support safe, accessible and high-quality care.

Cross-sectional analysis tracking workforce density in surgery, anesthesia, and obstetrics as an indicator of progress toward improved global surgical access

Introduction: Safe surgical care, including anesthesia, obstetrics, and trauma, is an essential component of a functional health system, yet is lacking in much of the world. One indicator of surgical access is the number of specialist surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians (SAO) per 100,000 population, but global progress reaching threshold SAO density (SAOD) is unknown. This study measured SAOD change/trajectory and highlighted components of workforce expansion.
Methods: SAOD in 2019 was captured utilizing publicly available medical licensing data for a convenience sample of 21 countries. Projected 2030 SAOD were estimated by extrapolating annual changes since 2015. Ugandan medical students were surveyed regarding postgraduate plans and SAO training availability. Workforce contribution by nonphysician surgical and anesthetic providers was measured in Sierra Leone.
Results: Three low-income countries (LICs), 4 lower middle-income countries (L-MICs), 7 upper middle-income countries (UMICs), and 7 high-income countries (HICs) were included. Overall SAOD increased since 2015. The average 2019 SAOD was 1.16±0.81 (LICs), 3.19±1.92 (L-MICs), 20.98±12.55 (UMICs), and 44.04±12.41 (HICs). The projected 2030 SAOD in LICs and L-MICs remains below 20. In Uganda, 144 specialist SAO training positions and practice preferences predict an inadequate future workforce. In Sierra Leone, nonphysician providers contributed a 6-fold increase in the surgical workforce, though remains inadequate.
Conclusions: Despite incremental positive changes since 2015, the current SAOD trajectory is inadequate to realize 2030 access goals. Increased training and retention of specialists and nonphysician providers are necessary to address this critical deficit.

Supervision as a tool for building surgical capacity of district hospitals: the case of Zambia

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted task shifting of surgical responsibilities to non-physician clinicians (NPCs) as a solution to address workforce shortages. There is resistance to delegating surgical procedures to NPCs due to concerns about their surgical skills and lack of supervision systems to ensure safety and quality of care provided. This study aimed to explore the effects of a new supervision model implemented in Zambia to improve the delivery of health services by surgical NPCs working at district hospitals.
Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with NPCs and medical doctors at nine district hospitals and with the surgical specialists who provided in-person and remote supervision over an average period of 15 months. Data were analysed using ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ thematic coding.
Interviewees reported an improvement in the surgical skills and confidence of NPCs, as well as better teamwork. At the facility level, supervision led to an increase in the volume and range of surgical procedures done and helped to reduce unnecessary surgical referrals. The supervision also improved communication links by facilitating the establishment of a remote consultation network, which enabled specialists to provide real-time support to district NPCs in how to undertake particular surgical procedures and expert guidance on referral decisions. Despite these benefits, shortages of operating theatre support staff, lack of equipment and unreliable power supply impeded maximum utilisation of supervision.
This supervision model demonstrated the additional role that specialist surgeons can play, bringing their expertise to rural populations, where such surgical competence would otherwise be unobtainable. Further research is needed to establish the cost-effectiveness of the supervision model; the opportunity costs from surgical specialists being away from referral hospitals, providing supervision in districts; and the steps needed for regular district surgical supervision to become part of sustainable national programmes.